By Lloyd Jones
BARTLETT — Cam Clark is living the dream.
Cam is going to college, but he's also able to combine his passion for the sport of soccer with his education. He's a freshman at the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy in Headingley (near Leeds), in England.
"I'm loving it, it's amazing," Cam, 19, the son of Nancy and Rob Clark of Intervale said during a recent interview.
The four-year university is listed as "the world's first opportunity for students to earn an accredited American degree; coaching licenses and get development, exposure and opportunity in the European game while playing in a soccer academy in England," on its website. "Founded in 2009, its mission is 'to provide a life-changing opportunity for students as they pursue their American degree while reaching their optimal playing potential.'"
Cam knew as a senior at Kennett High that he wanted to play soccer at the very best level possible. His parents also wanted their son to continue his education.
"I went to a college fair in Maine and I saw that there was a booth for Richmond University in London, so I was just kind of drawn to it because I love England," Cam said, explaining his path to England. "Then, while I was talking to the person there, I happened to mention that I played soccer so she mentioned to me that they had a program in Leeds, and then gave me the director's email. I got in touch with him, and then, from there, I went to a tryout in San Antonio, Texas. This was in December of 2014."
It was three-day tryout in Texas.
"A few days later they emailed me and told me that I got a spot on the team."
Cam is now into his second semester in Headingley. He'll be there for four years pursuing his educational dream and possibly his soccer dream of getting signed by a professional club.
"That's the big hope, that's what I'm shooting for to get signed by a team either pro of semi-pro over in Europe and then kind of go from there and work my way up," he said.
Cam and his mom got an opportunity to tour a number of soccer clubs prior to start of the academic campaign last August.
"My mom and I went over a week before the program started," he said. "The program started Sept. 1 — we kind of toured around to a bunch of different stadiums."
Among them was a tour of Anfield, home of Liverpool, Cam's favorite soccer team.
"We'd gone there last year when I went to visit it," he explained, "and we were able to get into the stadium, and we ran into the guy that brought us into the stadium the year before, and he was like, why don't you jump on this tour. After that we had coffee, and just kind of talked with the announcer at Anfield (George Sephton) because we had met him last year."
Cam admits the program is more than he thought it would ever be.
"I like it because it's a lot more focused on soccer than school," he said. "It's what my parents told me I could never get, it's pretty great."
So what's a typical day like at a soccer college?
"We have training every single day except for Wednesday and then we have classes every day except Tuesday (and the weekends)," Cam said. "Weekends we usually have games. We're just based on a college, we're playing against the academies and low level semi-pro and pro clubs.
"We also have showcase games, which are against pro club academies," he continued. "I was able to play in the one against the Sheffield Wednesday Academy, which are a championship club (in the English League Championship division), that was a lot of fun. And two or three weeks after that match three of their players got signed to their first team."
Cam smiles and said he "played as well as he could" in the match against Sheffield Wednesday. "They were very talented, but it was a wonderful experience."
It's a big leap from Division II high school soccer in New Hampshire to playing at this level in England.
"It's so much higher," Cam said. "A lot more physical; a lot faster paced. A lot of the stuff that they would call fouls over here they don't all over there, so it adds another whole level of physicality to it."
At the moment Cam is one of eight goalies in the program. There are three main teams and there is also a development team.
"I'm on a team with one other goalie," he said. "Even though there are eight of us, there's still plenty of opportunity. They do it well so you get a good amount of playing time."
All but one of Cam's coaches are former professional soccer players.
"Three played for Bradford City (who play in Football League One, two divisions before the English Premier League) and one played for Newcastle (in the Premier League), and another played for Leeds United (now in the English League Championship division) when they were in the Premier League," Cam said.
Surprisingly, Cam has a number of American teammates.
"It's dominantly Americans," he said. "There are a couple from other counties, like we have one from Germany, three from India, one from Nigeria, but then a lot of the other kids who are (from the U.S.) are of a different nationality but they've been living in the U.S. for most of their lives, they're pretty much American."
The soccer program has a dorm on the campus specifically for soccer players.
"All the guys from my program love it, which makes it even more enjoyable," Cam said. "I actually have my own room. There's four people to a floor, I have my own room and I do share a bathroom with one other guy."
Cam is studying international sports management. His classes in the first semester included math, business, a writing class and has stated his FA 2 (Football Association) coaching license class.
"That will definitely help me out after school," Cam said of the license. "I'm pretty sure it's a required course to take. It's a new thing they're starting because last year, it was just, you can do this, but this year (the administration) said, we're giving you this chance to get it."
Cam said as a first-year student he has class in the morning and soccer practice in the afternoon.
"We have class from usually 9 a.m. to noon or from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.," he explained. "We have practice from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. It varies on different days."
Through the program, Cam is getting the opportunity to play in a number of historic venues, including recently playing at Stockport County FC, who played in Division I (at Edgerley Park in a 10,841 seat stadium) in the 1990s.
"They have a team that plays in that stadium, it was amazing," he said.
Cam has also been able to see some of the best soccer in the world first hand.
"My team's coach is also a coach for a Manchester City development team," Cam said, smiling. "He was able to get our team tickets to the Championships League game between Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach (from Germany). It was a fantastic game; the atmosphere was amazing."
In terms of highlights, there have been a few, including earlier this month traveling to Norway for matches over three days.
"Even though the end result wasn't that good, playing against Sheffield Wednesday, just because they are a pro academy was a big highlight for me," Cam said. "Definitely going to see that match at Man. City, and just being able to play over here. To me every day is a highlight because I'm doing what I love, so I can't really ask for more."
Cam would recommend this educational route to anyone who has a passion for soccer and education.
"The commitment is the fact that you've got to go overseas," he said. "I got a little bit homesick like right at the beginning but that kind of went away because I started hanging out with people, making friends. I got a little bit homesick at Thanksgiving because it was the first time I'd missed in my entire life, then I realized I was home in three weeks and got over it."
The school year wraps up for Cam in early May. He'll be home for three months and then return in the beginning August for preseason.
Cam earned All State honors while at Kennett High, but admits his game has improved considerably in the past year.
"I definitely feel like I've learned a lot and developed a lot in the short time I've been over there," he said. "Being over there, I've learned you can't have any fear (in the penalty area) of getting hit and taking hits or giving hits."
Cam's teams plays often twice a week with one being a midweek fixture, usually at 8 p.m., and at noon or 1 p.m. on the weekend.
Cam has become a fan of fish and chips.
"I figured I had to try it since I was over in England," he said, laughing, "and I really liked it. That's pretty much like the only English food that I like to eat."
You can follow Cam online at Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy (http://www.riasa.org) or on Facebook at (Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy).
"Usually a day two after the match they post the match report," Cam said. "There's usually highlights, too. And, then there's also a website where they post news and the roster and all that stuff. On Twitter it's (1riasa), and throughout a game they tweet everything that happens. They've got a good system over there."